What to do when a child swears

Goddammit! What Can You Do When Your Child Swears?

Here is the connecting alternative to punishments and disconnection following a child’s use of swear words and other sorts of foul language.

Swear words are part of vocabulary and children acquire these words just like they acquire any other part of vocabulary. Research shows that by the time children enroll to school they already know between 30 to 40 swear words. Will they use them? How will they use them? It’s up to us, parents.

Most Grown Ups Use Swear Words

Personally – I use swear words. I use swear words when I’m upset, I use swear words when I run out of patience, I use swear words when I’m alone (or with my partner or friends), I use swear words to describe a situation and I will never use swear words to describe a person. That’s because I know how to use swear words. This special class of vocabulary helps us regain the sense of control over a situation and express our emotions freely (over 80% of swear words are said at the presence of big emotions and sudden pain) and research has shown that this class of words is indeed helpful in lessening pain, helping us withstand unpleasant situations longer, and even decrease actual instances of violence.

But all that doesn’t seem to matter when an 8-year-old comes home and starts cursing, right? Somehow, knowing that it wasn’t us who introduced these words to our children’s vocabulary immediately distances parents from their children’s experience. We start imagining all sorts of negative impacts on those precious souls and we are willing to do everything – EVERYTHING it takes – to make sure this sort of language will not be used in our house.

Can You Prevent Your Child from Using Swear Words?

The problem is that we do not live in a void. Swear words are a significant part of language and our children with learn these words, whether we like it or not. Making these words a forbidden class of language will only make these more attractive to use.

We often find ourselves resenting children with older siblings who might have introduced our little ones to this sort of disconnecting language, and we might blame ourselves for our inability to just make it stop. This week I met a wonderful mama through my parent coaching program who made a radical choice and decided to disallow her 8 year old daughter’s relationships with an entire group of friends who often “hang out” in the proximity of their older siblings, who she suspected to have brought these words onto her doorstep.

Her daughter, rightfully so, reacted in a variety of disconnecting patterns that included silent treatments and the exaggerated use of these same words she wished to relief her daughter’s vocabulary from.

That was a bad idea.

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Distancing our children from the ones who we believe are responsible for this introduction, specially if these are their friends, will work to disconnect us from our our children at best, and create a rivalry attachment – at worst.

Although unrelated to the subject, I’ll take a second to explain rivalry attachments – it is when parents disallow a relationship the child is interested in, by thus pushing the child into the very hands of that same relationship. Knowing this relationship is unacceptable at home, these children will hide and lie to make sure their relationships are protected, while seemingly keeping the attachment at home. This is not a path any parent wants to go to (about cursing or anything else).

What Can You Do When Your Child Swears?

The most important realization we, parents, must gain, is that using swear words comes with a side of empowerment. It makes children feel stronger, bigger, more mature. It gives them the taste of forbidden everyone loves. Adults, too.

When a child resolves to curse words, he usually feels un-empowered, weak, experiencing an unmet need which he feels a swear word might restore.

Threats, sanctions, punishments, and all other sorts of disconnecting acts don’t and will not work in our battle against curse words. It will push us further apart from the ones we love most and will leave us in our complete solitude with the pattern we wished to change, while still in its presence.

Following are the five connecting steps parents can take to dissolve the use of swear words:

Understand What Triggers You

“It’s easy” you might think now; “it’s the swear word!”. But that’s not what I mean – I mean what is happening to YOU when you hear your child using foul language? What is your real concern there? Which needs of yours are sabotaged by the use of these words?

Do you feel disrespected (unseen, unheard for what you are trying to teach)? Do you feel disconnected from your child? Are you afraid for your child’s future? All these are valid feelings and thoughts that might come up at the presence of a cursing child. Give these feelings and fears names and space. They are important for the following steps.

No More Tantrums

Understand How You Want it To Be

This stage is the reversal of the previous stage. In a perfect world, most parents want their children to be able to solve various issues without the use of violence or foul language, they want everyone to feel equally seen and equally heard for whatever lives in them in that moment. They want everyone to respect and feel respected. They want everyone to know they can trust each other to be there for them. All these “wants” shatter when bad language is used, and all these “wants” are what’s really behind our pure desire for clean language.

Understand Your Child’s Experience  

Sure, your child uttered a curse word. But that is the very last part of his current experience. Something MADE him say it. Something happened that made him feel so bad – that he said a bad word. What happened? Was his sense of privacy distorted? Was it the feeling of inclusion that has gone? Was is the lost feeling of self competence? This exploration is important because THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO HANDLE – differently. This is where your focus should be. Not on the swear word. That really doesn’t matter. It’s simply another class of language that we all use.

Emphasize

Acceptance is key. Talk to your child about his experience. Not about the word. Understand from him, and in his words, what happened to him there. What did he feel before he said that word. How did he feel after saying it? Did it help restore the unmet need? How would he want a similar situation in the future to look and feel like? How would he like to solve these problems or handle this pain if it ever happens again?

This is the conversation parents should be having with their children if they use swear words. No punishments or threats, no empty exclamations such as “in this house we don’t swear”. As, clearly – we do.

When a child uses a swear word he is looking for empowerment – give it to him.

Share

After your child’s experience is clear to you, and you both know how he would like to handle similar situations in the future, after true and inner power has been restored, after the connection has been rebuild, now – it is your turn to share.

This is how I stopped my child from swearing without losing his connection or friendship. #AttachmentParenting #PositiveParenting #NonviolentCommunication

Share what triggers you when you hear him using foul language. Share how you want similar experiences to look and feel. Tell him what is important to YOU, only after you’ve understood what was/is important to him.

Just like any other impulsive behavior, swearing too is an opportunity for connection and empowerment – all we need is to be brave enough and see it that way.

Join my parenting support group on Facebook, come talk to me about it 🙂 I would love to meet you!

Or even better: Take my Nonviolent communication parenting course – it’s on sale!

The use of curses, swear words and other sorts of bad language among children is a concern for most parents of teens and tweens. Here's how you can empower your child to positive language.

Viki de Lieme

Hi there! Welcome to my home 🙂 I am a mom, a parent coach and educator, a Nonviolent Communication specialist, and attachment parenting advocate. I help children (and their parents) reconnect and find the joy of family life.

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